the fight (written in a beijing cab, mar - april 2007)
The jab seemingly innocuous took him on the right temple, grazing more so than hitting and more hurtful because of his opponent’s lacing on the underside of the glove rubbing on the side of his head as in anticipation he slightly ducked the targeting offense of his fellow combatant.
An audible grunt from the pressing Hispanic fighter accompanied the blow along with a distinct rise in the level of the audience watching and an unmistakable shrill female exhortation as she herself rode the punch, indeed the fortunes of her preferred fighter.
With only the slightest of signals being sent by his opponent’s eyes and body it was clear that no follow up missive would be delivered and all that was required was to continue with his evasive action, swiveling to the left in a clockwise position and then straightening his body to resume his combat stance.
It was round 7, already in the second half of the 12 round championship fight and until now the former security guard turned boxer had acquitted of himself well in his attempt to wrest the middleweight title of the world. Not inclined to moments of dreamlike anticipation, which he fully understood would appear as the fight progressed, for just a fleeting moment he felt that momentum and fortune were with him tonight.
The impact with which the blow struck sent bolts of pain with after tremors compacting as does the concertinaed bellows of a piano accordion in successive aftershocks. A piercing, stinging ringing in his ears the diffused blurred imagery of the ringside apron officials and reporters along with strobing visuals closer to his field of vision of the Hispanic’s black adidas footwear gave way to a cacophonous roar as quickly sensibility and the realization of what had just happened struggled into the ascendancy of his consciousness. Trailing out at this time were the words of Vinnie Vega, John Travolta’s character from 1994’s Pulp Fiction “so what yer gonna wander the earth like a bum” which rapidly gave way to an urgent voice coming from his corner his patch as it were of the ring.
“you trained to take this shit now get up and suck it up and come back with some” “Five”, and then a slap on the apron followed by “six”, which experience implored him to acknowledge and acknowledge ‘fucking quickly’. Disorientation a fighter’s nemesis presented as does the disbelief from a letter of yet again another failed job application as he got to is feet. A disbelief in the outcome having to give way to a reality and some quick decisions to access; forget and move on or wallow in confusion and finish it now.
The latter wasn’t something he’d worked hard and expended so much energy over the past seven years to befall him tonight; not now, not this way, and not by this guy, who had for the past two years dodged every possible matchmaking arrangement.
“What’s your name” blurted out from the black and white stripe shirted official now standing only inches from his face. He didn’t recall rising to his feet but recalled the count ‘eight’ at the same time as the ringing inside his head subsided beneath an even stronger ringing from outside. Momentarily he felt strong arms embrace him from beside as the words “he’s fucking ok Joe, don’t pussy out, he’s fucking ok…let me get him into shape in the break…don’t fuckin’ do it Joe, you know it’d be wrong” blurted out from nearby.
For a moment everything stopped; the ringing faded along with the dull roar of the crowd and the exhortation of “fuck it Joe” fused into slow motion, grabbing a bite of sound synced to the flickering of the ringside lights and camera flashes from around the ring.
A cold wet sensation brought him back to a semblance of immediacy of consciousness though he wasn’t sure where the words “great ass on the round 8 gal” came from. It took a stinging slap on his face to complete the transition along with the barking of his trainer beseeching him to focus. “We fucking worked for this for two years, so are you gonna quit on me now?....are you? He shook his head trying to make sense of everything before aimlessly uttering “no, no”.
“Who are you” his trainer replied, though this time with just a slight concession to compassion. Through the pain and confusion a wry smile from the edges of his lips formed before he breathed out “the devil of Tasmania, gonna lay some evil on you”. “Tell it to me, don’t parrot the fucking words” and then the whole corner crew including himself chanted in unison “we’re the devils of Tasmania gonna lay some evil on you, gonna beat you and yer army up, and gonna take yer belt too”
“you fuckin’ bewdie mate” he heard from one of the corner men, maybe his cut man Steve, but by now he was more intent on getting back his focus for the upcoming round along with his imagination of why the fuck he was even here in the first place. While all around him seemed normal he didn’t and as seconds ticked by and as his corner men attended their duties he was still trying to push the shit of the knockdown trauma out of his mind.
“I fucking told you about this, but you got stuck. Put whatever shit you are thinking out now, it was his best fucking shot, you took it, so alls you got to do now is not let him do it again and remember that on the swivel and comin’ back up to keep your right hand up and keep covering your jaw”. At the same time he said those words his trainer was also tapping on the right side of his face to emphasize this defensive maneuver. While he could hear the words now almost at normal speed it was the tails of fist images he could still see hitting his trainers jaw that made him wonder just for a moment where the fuck he was.
Whatever his state of mind there was no time to dwell as again his trainer began speaking; “you’re in this big, you done 7 and we got 8 coming up, and your body shots are working so keep that focus. You can see like me that his ribs are as red as....that’s your work, your smarts, and you’re hurting this Chicano son of a bitch.
‘This’! He always loved it when his trainer emphasized this word. It made him feel as he knew his cat felt when it purred as he patted its head. “This is what you wanted to do to this bum”, and this was this, the fight, it was what he did, and through a strange fog it was what he was doing here tonight.
“Steve, quick mate give his mouth guard a rinse” he heard before the ’10 seconds’ audible from the time keeper crashed through his trainer’s words. Normally he thought the words were muttered by a timekeeper like his mate Craig at the gym who nightly during training would utter the words ’10 seconds’ to prepare for the upcoming round. Tonight though due to a fight of this magnitude it was prerecorded in surround sound for extra audio pleasure befitting the drama of the occasion.
“Bobby ice his neck again”. “Ta mate, go easy not to rough” as Bobby softened his touch on the base of his neck with the ice patch.
“Steve, where the fuck is the mouthguard, I said rinse mate, not a fucking makeover”
“Ball buster here you go mate”, as he saw Steve hand the guard back to his trainer. His trainer replied with a quick ‘ta’ before once again putting the guard back in his mouth. While all the way conscious things still didn’t seem right and with the guard now back in place he bit into it to get the feel of both it and his jaw into a comfort zone, which normally was one of the little things he always liked about this sport.
“Ok, get up son” his trainer implored. “You ok? Don’t shit me, you ok, or you wanna call it quits”?
Of course he wanted to continue since the stakes were high here, and although not yet fully back to a clarity that would indicate fight ready he knew that to quit now would be shutting the door on all he had worked for. He muttered ‘ok’ and hoped the glare in his eyes conveyed the intensity of the moment more than the words that just spilled from his mouth.
Beyond his trainers shoulder he could see his opponent ina similar engagement with his trainer though there appeared to be more movement than in his own corner. At first he couldn’t reconcile why and then the ringing in his head cold be heard again followed by a sobering embrace from his trainer. The bell kept ringing as he saw his opponent’s mouthguard drop to the floor and a large, broad grin break across his face. He wondered why the Mexican was throwing fists into the air before the words from his trainer conclusively ended the doubt in his mind. Still in the embrace he heard “you gave it your best shot, we’re all proud of you and you’ll be back again at this level. It’s ok son, we’re all with you, but it just wasn’t meant to be tonight”
His trainer uttered more words, but with the pandemonium in the ring due to security guards, the media and other well wishers, they simply fell upon deaf ears. The disappointment of the moment descended upon him and as his consciousness gradually returned the enormity of the failure began gripping him as does an eagle its prey.